Starling Marte will be returning from his 80-game suspension on July 18. From that point on, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have 69 games left in the season. Can Marte provide the necessary boost to help the Pirates down the stretch?
Marte’s suspension has been devastating to the team offensively. The Pittsburgh Pirates rank 13th in the NL in batting average (.241), 12th in runs (378), 14th in home runs (87), and 10th in stolen bases (38). The team is near the bottom in most offensive categories in the NL. The lack of Marte’s presence is huge reason for that. With that said, he will be back. The Pirates are not a sunken ship yet. They are seven games out of first place in the division. Marte will have the rest of this season and the rest of his career to redeem himself as a ballplayer. What can we expect from him the rest of this season?
Will he be the same Starling?
When I look at the case of Marte, a few things jump out. First, the drug that he tested positive for, nandrolone, is super easily detected. If he were taking that drug regularly, he would’ve tested positive long before this year. I seriously doubt that Marte has been a longtime doper. To me, it seems like he tried to dope, failed miserably, and yeah, here we are. Once again though, nothing is certain.
Secondly, when we look at Marte’s tools a few things have always been certain. Marte is one of the fastest players in the game and has been since the Pirates signed him. He also has one of the strongest arms in the game, another trait that has been constant since the Pirates signed him. The combination of great speed and a great arm translates to great defense. Steroids don’t affect route running and catching fly balls. Marte will return as a top defensive outfielder.
What happens when a player returns from suspension?
In 2013, Ryan Braun was busted for PEDs. In the years before, Braun was an MVP winner and perennial candidate for the award. From 2007-2012, Braun averaged an OPS+ of 147. 2013 was obviously shortened due to suspension. From 2014 until now, Braun has averaged an OPS+ of 127. Yes, that number in 20 points lower but it should be noted that Braun was younger and in his prime in the earlier years. He is now 33 years old. He was 30 in 2014.
It is difficult to say whether age or PEDs led to Braun’s slight drop off but that’s not the point. The point is that the drop off hasn’t been all that bad. As painful as it is to say, Braun is still a good to great hitter well after his suspension.
In 2015, the year before Dee Gordon was suspended 80 games, he won the batting title and hit .333/.359/.418 with 58 steals. When he returned from his suspension last year, he hit .262/.306/.328 with 23 steals in 52 games. This year he’s hitting .295/.342/.358 with 32 steals. By in large, Gordon is still the same player he was after his suspension. He’s a slap hitter who steals a ton of bases. Whether 2015 was a career year propelled by PEDs has yet to be seen.
What about Marte’s bat?
For Marte, I don’t expect much of a drop off with the bat, if any. He is 28 years old and in the prime of his career. He has power but isn’t a power hitter. Marte is a guy who can hit for average and steal bases. He is a line drive hitter with questionable plate discipline. He may never be a 25 home run guy. I honestly don’t know what kind of slight boost Marte expected when he took PEDs. He was already a great player before taking.
With that being said, I do worry about his play upon return. The pressure of returning from suspension has to be a burden. After knowing you’ve wronged so many people, it’s only human nature to want to make it up to them in a big way. Marte must not think like this. He must stay within himself and be the player that he is. When you try to do to much, it can snowball from bad to horrible in a hurry. Just ask Andrew McCutchen.
After a few 0-4 games to shake the rust off and calm the nerves, I fully expect Marte to be the shot in the Pirates need to make a run. The way I look at it, no player acquired at the trade deadline will come close to the skill level of Marte. He won’t be able to play in the postseason, but he can definitely give the Pirates a boost to give them a chance to reach the dance.
Let’s say Marte plays 60 games down the stretch. If he can hit .280/.325/.460 with 15-20 steals, that would be nice. Add seven or so home runs and he’d really be cooking. More than anything, the Pirates need someone to stabilize their lineup. Rookies like Adam Frazier and Jose Osuna have done a tremendous job of holding it down, but now its time for the Pirates to get their star back. You just hope that he’s ready to redeem himself.
Photo Credit – Daniel Decker Photography